Kevin McVicker’s Comics Corner: issue #7: Top-10 Most Underrated BATMAN Stories

“CLICK NOW! COMIC WRITER LISTS THE BEST AND MOST AWESOME BATMAN TITLES EVER! OF ALL TIME!”

So, that title might be a bit misleading, but I wanted to hook you into reading. You see, if you’ve read the other articles composed by me I hope we have a trustworthy, but abusive relationship… like that 50 Shades of Something-or-another “book”, but much, MUCH better written. Not everyone though has that intense of a relationship with me, so I have to hook them with catchy and outlandish titles. I learned that from Buzzfeed. I also learned from Buzzfeed that apparently people only read lists. So here is another list article, but it’s a good list without any “news-vertisements” at the bottom to try to make you think you’ll get to see a famous person naked. Though, I do promise if I get popular enough I will post pictures of my own nipples.

batman-jim-lee

Jim Lee’s Batman (image courtesy of DC Comics)

And speaking of nipples we’re going to talk about Batman, specifically about what I feel are great Batman stories. Now everyone always talks about the main classics (Dark Knight Returns, Arkham Asylum, Hush, Knightfall, etc.), and while those are amazing (seriously, go read those books) I want to cover what I consider to be (often extremely) overlooked stories of the Dark Knight. These are basically stories I like about The Bat. I don’t claim they are the best and most groundbreaking, but often solid stories are overlooked because people want the absolute best. If you’re a true fan of the Dark Knight, or looking to become a true fan, I think these are extremely worthwhile stories to make sure you read along with the ones everyone puts on their lists. Here in no particular order are my ten (or some other number less than that if I get busy or bored) choices.

1 – Batman #421 & #422 by Jim Starlin and M. D. Bright

Batman 422Taking place less than a handful of issues prior to the “Death in the Family” story, these are important issues both on their own and leading into that classic and defining arc. This follows the story of a serial killer called the Dumpster Slasher as Batman tries to bring him to justice. That’s really all you need to know. One of the most important things about these issues for me is that they were the first Batman issues I ever read. I was mainly a Marvel reader, and got that honest from my dad, but for some reason the cover of issue 422 lured my young mind away from the house of ideas to their distinguished competitor for one issue, and since then I’ve been a Batman fan.

2 – Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #54 by Mike Mignola and Dan Rasplier

Batman LotDK 54

A lot of people would put “Gotham by Gaslight” on their list, and while that is a masterpiece, this lesser-known issue called “Sanctum” drawn and co-written by Mignola is a fantastic and overlooked one-off. While chasing a murderer through a graveyard, Batman enters into the underworld, or perhaps just dealing with delirium from his injuries. This issue was from prior to the start of Mignola’s amazing Hellboy days, but shows his clear passion for the macabre and mythological. Every bit of who he would become is apparent now while reading this issue, and fans of both Batman and Mignola should read this without question.

3 – Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #83 & #84 by Warren Ellis and John McCrea

Batman LotDK 84This two-parter titled “Infected” tells the story of Batman tracking down soldiers injected with a retrovirus which alters their DNA and weaponizes their body. If you thought you’d get out of an article without me mentioning Warren Ellis, you were wrong. This story is definitely not Warren Ellis’ best work, but is still expertly written and well executed and a fun Batman tale. Not only that, but McCrea’s art is fantastic, and he would go on to draw my favorite Punisher story: “Confederacy of Dunces.”

4 – Batman #620 – #625 by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

Batman 625This arc called “Broken City” by the dynamic duo that brought you “100 Bullets” is an incredibly overlooked arc, as it comes directly on the heels of the uber-hit “Hush.” What doomed this series when it first came out was that readers went from a slick and extremely comic-booky world, to Azzarello & Risso’s gritty, realistic, and indie feeling read. In terms of your basic comic book reader, Risso doesn’t hold to Jim Lee because Lee’s work is prettier. But screw that! Risso is an amazing storyteller, and that’s what comics are about. If you want pretty pictures and no story, there are a ton of early 90s Image Comics titles for you. There is nothing wrong with comics like that, just as there is nothing wrong with mindless action films. But don’t tell me, just because it’s more exciting that “Commando” is better than “The Godfather.” That’s kind of what happened with “Hush” and “Broken City.” I’m not saying “Broken City” is as great as “The Godfather” (but “Hush” is way better than “Commando”), but is as well done film-noir style detective story, which tends to be my favorite Batman genre.

5 – Batwoman #1 – #5 by W. Haden Blackman & J. H. Williams III

Batwoman 5Now, I know you’re going to be crying now because this technically isn’t a Batman story. Well, I don’t care because it is part of the larger Batman mythology that was developed with Grant Morrison’s Batman INC. idea, so I consider this a Batman story, and so do the editors and publishers, who kinda get to make that call. But apart from this being a strong story and a solid introduction for any new reader to the character of Kate Kane and her alter ego, this is a flat-out gorgeous comic. Each pages’ composition is beautiful laid out, with everything from layouts to the pencils to the ink to the colors and to even the lettering being purposefully and meticulously planned and perfectly executed. One of my favorite aspects to this book is the way they art works to separate Kate from Batwoman and almost represent them as different personas of the same person. Seriously, this IS NOT just some “ooh, I want to be liberal and throw a female and a lesbian on the list.” (seriously, it’s actually possible to just enjoy something without it being some kind of B.S. “political statement”) This is a truly brilliant book regardless of that. It is different from other mainstream superhero tales you’re reading on almost all levels.

6 – Batman Black & White: “To Become the Bat” by Warren Ellis & Jim Lee

Batman Gotham Knights 1This is a backup story which shows up in Batman: Gotham Knights #1. It is a short, nine-page story about Batman solving the murder of a woman while simultaneously showing how he honed his skills in flashbacks to become the person who could do what he needs to do. Coming out a few years prior to Lee’s co-created “Hush” story, it is interesting to see him begin to develop the signature poses he would later use in the much large tale. Together Ellis and Lee also do an amazing job of telling a short and concise story, but also one perfectly trimmed of anything extra. It’s the story Batman would tell about himself if he wrote a comic.

7 – JLA #90 by Joe Kelly and Chris Cross

JLA 90So, let’s get all of the giggles (and the required jump-jumping) out of the way about the artist’s name first… we good? Okay. This issue is a standalone in Joe Kelly’s epic run on JLA. Really, it is hard to come after both Morrison and Waid on a book and still define it as your own, but Kelly does this and also creates some of my personal favorite reads DC has ever published. What’s so great about this single issue, and why it is on a Batman list is that it deals with and tidies up a thread Kelly had been dangling for several issues prior: the romance of Batman and Wonder Woman. Kelly does a great job of showing you both why they are the perfect match for each other, but also why they could never work. Also, as Batman themed issues go, JLA #65 (also by Joe Kelly) is another great issue that may have made a longer list.

8 – Batman: “The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore & Brian Bolland (THIS ENTRY CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS)

The Killing JokeSo, I know I said I wasn’t going to mention the books that are (and should be) on everyone else’s list, but this one truly is one of the greatest Batman stories ever, even if it is technically an Elseworlds tale. Yes, you heard me correctly. I don’t buy that this was intended to be an in-continuity story the way it ended up being fashioned. I mean, I love Barbara Gordon as Oracle, but this story isn’t what actually turned her into that. I’m always surprised less people get that this isn’t part of continuity, but on The Fatman on Batman podcast Grant Morrison actually confirmed my theory, which when it comes to Batman, that’s as close to actually having Alan Moore confirm my theory as we’ll ever get. You see, and sorry to spoil it, but Batman kills The Joker at the end of this which ends up being a much more powerful story when read this way. This is a story about their final battle. Sure there is no onamonapia of a snapping neck to confirm that, but the idea I always considered was that his final laugh covered that noise. I want to say all that because I hope you’ll go back and read it differently. I think more than even The Dark Knight Returns; this really is the climactic battle between Batman and Joker. And unlike The Dark Knight Returns, eventually The Joker will win when he gets Batman to kill him. That’s the point. Joker knows he can’t beat Batman in battle, but if he can make him break or second guess his code of ethics, then The Joker has won. And he does; he beats Batman by driving Batman to kill him. The Joker gets the Last Laugh.

9 – Gotham Central #12 – #15 by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, & Mike Lark

Gotham Central 15This arc of Gotham Central titled “Soft Targets” is another book that some may get mad is on this list because technically Batman only shows up for a minute. But I don’t care, because in a highly acclaimed and awarded series this is probably the best chapter and it is all about the Batman universe. Specifically it revolves around cops trying to solve high profile politicians’ murders which are being perpetrated with a high powered rifle. It turns out The Joker is responsible and the drama predominately plays out inside the precinct head-quarters where the tension causes tempers to start to flare. If you enjoy Batman comics (or really any superhero comic set in a realistic city) this series is so great because while there are those cops who actually want to do their job, others want to just bide time while Batman solves the case for them. As a fan of this series, I was disappointed in the Gotham TV show hoping it would be more like this comic, but it’s a good chance to turn off the TV and (re)read this impeccable crime drama.

10– Batman: “Cacophony” by Kevin Smith and Walter Flanagan

Cacophony 1While all I can really say about the plot and art in this book is that Smith and Flanagan get the job done, there is still an important reason for me that this miniseries is on the list. And this reason is the entire reason I think anyone is a Kevin Smith fan, which is his dialogue. One scene that sticks out the most is in the first issue where The Joker bends over to let the person who rescued him from Arkham sodomize him, and the amount of anally fixated jokes in that sequence both seem in character for The Joker and par for the course for Kevin Smith. But not just in the foul humor, but also in the humanization of characters, again including The Joker but also of Batman and Maxi Zeus, Smith knocks it out of the park. And again, this is all in the dialogue. If you hate Kevin Smith, then this won’t make you love him, but if you do love him this is a must-read. Parts of it play out as almost a love letter from Smith to Batman as he has obvious passion for the character. Also, fans of AMC’s Comic Book Men will recognize Flanagan’s name. Not that it really matters, but yes, it’s the same guy.

So there we go. That’s ten for the list. That was really easy. I can see why Buzzfeed does that instead of… well, anything worthwhile. Hope you enjoyed it because you can expect more lazy crap like this from me here and there.

-Kevin McVicker
Columnist: Nerd Nation Magazine

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One thought on “Kevin McVicker’s Comics Corner: issue #7: Top-10 Most Underrated BATMAN Stories

  1. Pingback: Kevin McVicker’s Comics Corner: issue #24: Another Ten Underrated Batman Stories | Nerd Nation Magazine

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